A 10-ton piece of Jacksonville history came rolling home on Saturday, June 14, when the Rogue River Valley Railroad Locomotive #1 returned to town on a flatbed transport truck. Mel and Brooke Ashland, owners of the Bigham Knoll campus, facilitated the purchase of the engine by the Jacksonville Heritage Society, a local preservationist nonprofit organization. The Engine is known as the “Tea Kettle,” and is a classic steam engine locomotive, whose whistle is reminiscent of a spouting kettle. Most recently, the engine was owned by a private individual and housed in the Fillmore, California Train Park. Upon its arrival, the steam engine will be lifted by crane and placed on rail tracks in the original right of way on which it first chugged into town on January 16, 1891. By mid-day, she will be resting on her tracks, as well wishers cheer at her official “re” christening. The train will become a permanent visitor attraction located on the lower field of the Bigham Knoll Campus, below the Historic School House. Those who attended Oregon’s Sesquestennial 150th Celebration in 2010 will recall seeing Engine #1 in the California Street parade and on display at the Bigham Knoll Campus where all were thrilled by the sound of the engineer blowing the steam-powered whistle!
Engine #1 is the original steam engine that ran from Jacksonville to Medford on a 5-mile long, single rail track, a significant aspect in western US railroad history. The rail line connected Jacksonville to Medford, hooking into the original Oregon & California/ Southern Pacific rail lines. Today, one can see and walk on the original rail tracks that date back to 1891, running in front of the Visitors’ Center, on “C” Street and other locations. The Visitor’s Center was the original Train Depot.
Engine #1, built in 1890, was the original engine used by the Rogue River Valley Rail Road (RRVRR) that operated various forms of passenger and freight service between Jacksonville and Medford from 1891 until the railroad’s dissolution in 1925. In those three decades, several forms of locomotion were used to propel freight and passenger engines, including wood/steam, coal/steam and electricity.
In the 1890’s, freight hauled from Jacksonville to Medford included gravel mined from a quarry two miles west of town, along with bricks from a local brickyard and kiln, timber from area forests, and locally-grown crops and livestock. The Tea Kettle also carried the US Mail between towns. The Ashland’s speculate that due to the Germanic commercial influence in Jacksonville, and the fact that five breweries existed in town, that Jacksonville also shipped locally-made beer to Medford. Although hopes had been high for it to serve multiple purposes, the little Porter steam engine had been designed to run on flat ground—but the slight 3% incline from Medford to Jacksonville and other factors proved too difficult and costly for it to run the route as hoped. Consequently, Engine #1 was relegated to passenger-only status, pulling a single Pullman passenger car and shared the track with heavier-duty locomotives capable of handling the freight loads. Like the full-scale passenger service the RRVRR founders envisioned, freight service never fully-developed as hoped-for, either. Several factors contributed to the demise of the RRVRR, not the least of which was the advent of passenger automobiles and commercial trucking operations.
Engine #1 was welcomed home after a most-interesting post-Jacksonville journey. In 1895, the Tea Kettle was sold to the Albany Street Railway, where it was refashioned into a 0-4-2T scale locomotive. In 1905, it changed hands again to Skelly Lumber Company and transformed into a 0-4-0T before being badly burned in a 1911 fire and abandoned. It was then salvaged by J.H. Chambers Company and used until 1946. Later, it was purchased by Helen O’Conner as a gift to her husband and moved to their private track in Alta Loma, California. At that point, the O’Connor’s had the Tea Kettle rebuilt from original Porter blueprints. For many years after, Engine #1 was used in commercials and movie pictures by Short Line Enterprises.
Posted June 14, 2014